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Dr. Calvin Sanders attended Auburn University from 1965 to 1969, and remembers how much fun he had as an undergraduate student. Perhaps even a bit too much fun at first.

calvin sanders“Like many of my friends, I started out studying engineering,” Dr. Sanders said. “But during my first year, I really should have said I majored in ping pong in Magnolia Dormitory. I ended my freshman year with a GPA of 0.67 on a three point scale. I was such a good student that once the teacher had to wake me up during calculus class!”

At the end of his freshman year, Dr. Sanders decided he wanted to be a dentist, and would need to get serious about studying. Over the next three years, he changed his major, improved his grades and was accepted to both Emory’s and UAB’s dentistry programs.

“I was in way over my head,” Calvin remembered. “The amount of knowledge I had to cram into my head to get a decent grade was the hardest part. Some of the guys in my class used to get together to study occasionally, and I remember there were four or five that would finish by about 9:30 p.m. each night. But I’d go home and still be studying until two or three o’clock in the morning!”

Dr. Sanders married his wife, Libby, the weekend before he entered dental school at UAB in August of 1969. As newlyweds navigating married life, jobs, and dental school, life wasn’t particularly carefree.

“We had virtually nothing. For our whole first year of marriage, we didn’t eat out once. (And then on our anniversary, we went to the Parliament House in Birmingham and splurged on lobster!) I was advised not to be married while in dental school, but when you’re in love, that’s all that matters. And I think it was a good thing because my wife was a tremendous support the whole time. At times, it was extremely difficult for me, but she knew what I was going through and was there for me.”

As academically challenging as the School of Dentistry was for Dr. Sanders, there were also compassionate faculty and staff who made the hard days a little more bearable, and classmates to commiserate with.

“The only thing I remember about my interview for dental school was how nice Ms. Bridges (Nona), a staff member, was to me. She was kind of a ‘dental mama’ to all of us. I felt especially fond of Dr. Mario Martinez who was from Cuba. And of course, Dr. David Greer. Besides radiology, he taught me to play the card game Bridge. We used to leave clinic early to attend a “Crown and ‘Bridge’” class! If it weren’t for Dr. Greer, I might have just given up. He encouraged all of us.”

Calvin headed straight to the Air Force after graduating from UAB, where he served for two years at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

“Scott was the headquarters for the Military Airlift Command, which was huge during Vietnam, and remained that way while I was there from 1973 to 1975,” said Dr. Sanders. “The base personnel became so numerous that the dental clinic had to be divided into two shifts – 7:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., and then 1:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. I immediately went to my clinic commander and told him I couldn’t play on the base softball team if I worked until 7:00 p.m. Thank goodness he encouraged participation in base activities because for the last seven months of my service, I got off at one o’clock in the afternoon every day!”

Dr. Sanders had always assumed he would return to Montgomery where he grew up, to practice with his childhood dentist Dr. Sam Scott. “Dr. Scott was just a cool guy,” Dr. Sanders said. “He was probably only ten or fifteen years older than I, and I just liked him! This was before fluoridated water and toothpaste were widespread in rural parts of Alabama. Which meant that every time I visited him, I had to have a filling so I became familiar with what they did. He’s ultimately why I got into dentistry in the first place. But I never considered that there might be another patient of Dr. Scott’s in a class behind me in dental school, who also wanted to come back and join him. Which is exactly what happened!”

Through a classmate, Calvin heard that the mayor of the small rural town of Fyffe, Ala. was looking for a dentist. “I was actually born in Gadsden and both of my parents grew up on Lookout Mountain, so I’d spent a lot of summers in that area already. The best part about living in a small town is that everybody knows everybody, and the worst part about it is that everybody knows everybody!”

Practicing in a small town with few other dental professionals gave Dr. Sanders the chance to dabble in a few specialty areas. “Once I came to Fyffe, I found out that many locals didn’t want to go even as far as Gadsden or Huntsville for a root canal or orthodontic care, so I started taking continuing education courses to learn how to perform basic endo and ortho treatment. I enjoyed doing endo for a good long while, though I admit that ortho didn’t last long because I quickly learned that if a teenage orthodontic patient wasn’t doing what I told them to do, the parent considered it my fault!”

Being a rural dentist taught Calvin the importance of being present in his community and with his patients. “I’d advise new dentists to buy or start as an associate in a small town or rural area. You’ll have a small gold mine! But they should also live in the community they serve; patients don’t want a commuter dentist."

Dr. Sanders sold his dental practice in 2013. He and Libby bought a farm in 1977 and still love spending their time on the land with their cattle. “I grew up on a farm,” said Dr. Sanders. “When I left for Auburn University, I said ‘that’s the last cow I’ll ever see.’ Well, after four years living close to people in college, then dental school, and then in the Air Force, I said ‘Please Lord, give me a farm and some cows!’ Libby was a city girl, and it was a bit of a shock for her I think. But she got used to it and finally decided she’d be a cowgirl if I was going to be a cowboy.”

Reflecting back on his life and career, Dr. Sanders is grateful for his profession as a dentist. “I came to Fyffe with no house, no office, no patients, and not even any acquaintances. And look at me now: retired after 38 years a very rich man. Well, maybe not ‘very’ and maybe not ‘rich,’ but I think I did pretty good!”

Dr. Calvin Sanders would like to dedicate this alumni spotlight to the memory of Steve Hodges, a fellow member of the UAB School of Dentistry Class of 1973, who passed away December 1972.

If you would like to nominate a UAB School of Dentistry alumnus to be featured in an upcoming Alumni Spotlight, please email Elizabeth Carlson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..